After big corporations, bid for the corporation

Candidate hopes for chance to make transition from marketing to management

Calcutta, April 14: Sandipan Saha, 36, may be an electoral rookie but believes the management career he gave up to join politics was a good training ground.

"Till polling day, it's all about marketing. Once I'm elected, it will be all about management," the first-time civic poll candidate, representing Trinamul from Ward 52 in Taltala, grinned.

"I think I'm well equipped to handle the challenges both before and after the polls."

The alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, had worked seven years with infotech companies such as Infosys, Wipro and Sapient Corporation. But he found the heat and dust of politics alluring enough to dump the world of pinstripes for kurta-pyjamas.

It helped that politics runs in the family: his father Swarnakamal and mother Sunita had been councillors from the same ward, tucked behind New Market in Borough 6. Swarnakamal is now Trinamul MLA from Entally while Sunita has vacated her seat for her son.

"I'm into full-time politics now and plan to remain so," Sandipan said, before motioning to aides at his makeshift office on the first floor of the family's three-storey Taltala home.

It's a warm evening but it's time for him to again hit the winding lanes, with a smile and folded hands. The backroom boys would decide which route to take.

Sandipan rejects charges of dynasty politics. "It's not just about family. The point is whether the person is competent to be in politics. It can't be just about piggybacking his parents," he said, voice drowning in the evening poll-pitch.

"There have been instances of a doctor's son turning out to be a better doctor. Same for an actor or any other field."

The former secretary of the Calcutta chapter of the IIM-C's alumni association added: "A councillor is the lowest rung of the political pyramid. I want to start from here."

But why did he choose the ward where his mother is the outgoing councillor?

"For almost three decades we have been nurturing this area and it is our responsibility to keep the work going," Sandipan said. "It would have been wrong to shirk the responsibility and try out a new turf."

Sandipan did not take an early interest in politics. After finishing his schooling from Calcutta Boys' - a barely 12-minute walk from his Sukur Sarkar Lane home near Maulana Azad College - he graduated in commerce from St. Xavier's. He took the Common Admission Test for the Indian Institutes of Management in 2003.

"Getting into IIM Calcutta was a dream; I had worked hard to crack CAT," Sandipan said.

He left his last job in 2012, and the following year opened a financial accounting firm. The father of a four-year-old girl joined politics after being given the ticket for the ward his mother represented last time.

"Just look at the number of young faces the party has decided to field this time," he said. "I'm lucky to have been selected by Trinamul's screening committee, which went through lots of CVs."

His father had always encouraged him in whatever he wanted to do. Now that "Bapan", as his family calls him, is in his profession, Swarnakamal cannot hide his joy. He recalled the day he had first spotted a sign.

"It was during an election, probably in the 1990s, when I was in the Congress. I was on a campaign trail with Pranab-da (Mukherjee) and Ajit-da (Panja). Suddenly, Bapan walked up to me and joined me on the jeep," Swarnakamal recalled.

"That was probably his first brush with politics - and today he is here," the proud father said, gesturing towards the banners in the room, bearing his son's name.

Sandipan is up against the Left's Nazrul Islam, the BJP's Rajendra Gupta and the Congress's Manohar Sonkar. The issues he has to grapple with include water supply and drainage.

Is contesting for a councillor's seat tougher than getting into one of the best B-schools in the country?

Questions like these cannot stump the young man, who has handled a variety of clients including T-mobile, Vertex and Verizon during his stint with the IT majors.

"Having worked on developing marketing strategies for the corporate world, I think it becomes easy when you have someone like Mamata Banerjee as a brand," he said.

Mamata is present everywhere in the campaign, from the billboards and banners dotting the ward to her giant cut-out in front of the candidate's home. Sandipan has a Facebook page too to reach out to his 17,000-odd voters.

Given the ward's profile as a Trinamul stronghold, and his mother's comfortable victory margin in 2010, Sandipan is hopeful.

But the man who spurned big business for politics can't help his focus wavering when another Big B enters the picture. Even in the thick of his house-to-house campaign, whenever Sandipan glimpses an Amitabh Bachchan movie playing out on someone's living room TV, he has to stop for a few minutes and watch.


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